Dragongate
The Gate of Nostalgia
March 2, 2024
Edion Arena Osaka #2
Osaka, Japan

Watch: Dragongate.live

As 2024 is the silver anniversary year of the establishment of the Dragon System, Dragongate did away with their usual schedule of a late February/early March weekend of back-to-back Champion Gate shows in Edion Arena Osaka #2 with two title matches on each night. Instead, we will have one Champion Gate show tomorrow with three title matches (Pro Wrestling NOAH is in the midst of their tag team tournament/big show in Nagoya so no Twin Gate defense from Kiyomiya & Alejandro) and tonight is The Gate of Nostalgia, where the promotion will look back with one night revivals of key units in Dragon System history.

I’ve been pretty openly critical about the schedule change. It reeks of “Oh, we couldn’t get these dates from NOAH, so we have to make up for that.” The company has had very successful Toryumon Reunions in Tokyo, so it makes sense to bring it to Osaka. On the other hand, with the current deep territorial recession hitting Japan over the last five years and COVID, there is one thing that has reliably drawn for promotions when their backs are against the wall: Nostalgia (and retirement shows). With Hyo feeling like the hottest person in the promotion, why aren’t we testing his drawing ability by having him defend the Brave Gate with no Twin Gate support? Isn’t doing a show like this implicitly admitting that your past draws better than your present? 

The last looming specter over this show for me is what you can and cannot do on a Dragon System nostalgia show in 2024. Namely, the DG/Lidet promotional war and personal animuses prevent a full (and in my mind true) revival of a lot of these units. This is a show that vibes-wise could have used the reconciliation that could allow Millennials to reform for the first time in a decade. Even more important could have been a true form of Crazy Max here instead of having Renaissance come back because literally this is all you could do with Don Fujii on this show. 

So those are my biases and concerns going into today in Osaka. I felt like it was important for this review to get those out on the table before we get into the show itself. Personally, I really hope Gate of Nostalgia, and Champion Gate tomorrow, disabuse me of a lot of my concerns. With all of that out in the open, let’s get underway.

Masquerade (Kota Minoura, Dragon Dia & Jason Lee) Def. Natural Vibes (Jacky Funky Kamei, U-T, & Punch Tominaga)

Dragon Dia pinned Punch Tominaga in a fun opener with the DDDDT in about ten minutes.

Due to re-aggravating his shoulder and his disintegrating relationship with his unitmates, Strong Machine J pulled himself out of this match. Original member Punch Tominaga took his place and the Natural Vibes team did their first generation entrance and dance. Dia wrestled masked for this reunion that’s been happening as well in alternate universe Prime Zone +.

The injection of Tominaga became the story of the match. Modern Vibes members U-T and Kamei found themselves completely on the same page with him on the double and triple team sequences. The peculiar charm of Punch Tominaga began with his rather…vibrant…version of the Party Anthem dance and carried its way through the match. He’s the only person pulling double duty on this show, so taking the majority of the opener makes him a liability in the Mad Blankey vs Z-Brats main event. 

Tominaga focused matches often become Punch overkill, but this one was kept short and tidy and energetic. Jae and Ho Ho played up on commentary that Shun Skywalker had to be distracted this entire match for the promotion’s sake. A fun time! ***1/4

Super Florida Bros (Johnson & Jackson Florida) Def. Renaissance (Don Fujii & Yasushi Kanda) 

Super Florida Bros won with the Florida Fake Chair Shot Special.

A quick history and context lesson since these are 20-year-old units we are talking about: Reader, you have probably seen GIFs or matches with the Florida Brothers, Daniel Mishima & Michael Iwasa, and Kensuke (pronounced more like Kenny for comedic effect) Sasaki. It was a super popular comedy act for its time. The Super Florida Brothers are heirs to that act (Taku Iwasa and Raimu Mishima have both been out of wrestling for a decade and have kept to a private life since leaving). One (Johnson) looks suspiciously like a masked Takayuki Yagi. The other (Jackson) was very reminiscent of Tozawa-juku member Kouji Shushido (I am unspoiled at the time of writing these little context paragraphs. I don’t think it’s Shushido back and don’t know who’s playing Jackson at this point). Renaissance was a failed 2006 unit that was formed to celebrate Yasushi Kanda’s return from a devastating (and career limiting) spinal dislocation and Magnum Tokyo’s relationship with Genichiro Tenryu. Don Fujii as a former WAR employee quickly joined to flesh out the group. Well, Magnum and DG fell apart that fall, he left the company/”retired,” and the unit was completely scrapped.

The deal with Jackson Florida is that he has literally the most damaged knee in the history of wrestling so he gets to wrestle with a cane and the cane is completely legal. And that was the conceit of the entire comedy match. It’s pretty amusing the first time you see it, but it’s not Living in America, faked chair shots, the national anthem Florida Brothers. Johnson got unmasked and they played that up and then they closed out with the old Florida Brothers Fake Chair Shot Trap Door routine. The crowd loved it. This was fine and didn’t overstay its welcome. NR

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Dia.HEARTS (BxB Hulk, Masaaki Mochizuki, & Dragon Kid) Def. Real Hazard (Genki Horiguchi, Ryo Saito, & Cyber Kong)

Hulk pinned Ryo Saito after an errant Genki mist attack and a double First Flash.

History/Context: Dia.HEARTS were the BxB Hulk-led super face unit that formed after he won the Dream Gate in 2014. It never became the number one super face unit because Monster Express was still around and Hulk’s body fell apart after his Dream Gate run. It died in a match Hulk was still too hurt to participate in. Real Hazard was the 2008 heel unit formed by the remnants of Muscle Outlaws and New Hazard immediately after the infamous BxB Shingo segment that kicked off the Shingo/Hulk era-defining feud. This is kinda fun in that it’s Hulk’s stable versus what was at one time Shingo’s unit.

This match had the rare instance where we had one reunion that felt fresh and vibrant and a great use of guys on this card (Real Hazard) facing off against a reunion I have absolutely zero need to ever see reunite again (Dia.HEARTS). One of the more exhausting characters in Dragon System history was heel Genki Horiguchi. All-time great look, mind you, but several years straight of Genki mist attacks going awry and low blow backslides weren’t something I was keen on revisiting. There will be pro-Kong and anti-Kong camps that can’t be convinced either way and we probably didn’t need to have round 23423 of that debate tonight. But leave it to SaiRyo, a GM now crazed for violence, the turncoat, to be the focal point in a really fun rudo unit revival. Now, I don’t need the GM character to become this full-time, but I never thought of a pissed off GM Ryo Saito vs Shun Skywalker match before The Gate of Nostalgia and now it’s something I want desperately.

A unit like Dia.HEARTS deserved better than to be reunited in a completely listless fashion. Instead of taking us collectively back to great matches like DH vs Monster Express vs VerserK, we feel like this was the group of left over. Hulk at least made new gear for this match, but then part way through, the front DH logo came off to show a Pos.Hearts logo, another Hulk-featured group that is better left in the past. This could have used previous members Kzy and Shimizu in this, but they are doing different things tonight.

All together, the work was fine, but the Dia.HEARTS aftertaste was the sort of thing I was fearing with The Gate of Nostalgia. **3/4

D’Courage (Madoka Kikuta & Ryoya Tanaka) Vs. MaxiMuM/Big Ben (Big R Shimizu & Ben-K) WENT TO A NO CONTEST

Referee Mr. Nakagawa threw out the match when Z-Brats attached D’Courage ahead of their Triangle Gate decision match tomorrow. 

History/Context: As Jae mentioned on English commentary, it’s funny that Big Ben were the two who repped the unit as they were the original members who betrayed them. The unit lasted until the Three-Way Generation War that began in late 2019, but these two were already on the R.E.D. side when that all kicked up. 

How dissatisfying! On the precipice of Ryoya Tanaka getting the biggest win of his career, a pin on a two-time former Twin Gate team, ISHIN knocks him off the turnbuckle and the rest of the group draw the no contest.

I get how they needed some show continuity for tomorrow, but having the best match of the show to this point end in such a fashion is a bummer. It was a fun little story. Big Ben reunited to be completely on the same page and destroyed Tanaka fairly convincingly. If Big Ben were in the upcoming Rey De Parejas, they would be one of the favorites. Seeing Shimizu rock the mohawk while Ben-K struggled not to say “Chiki Chiki” after every spot was exactly the energy a show like this should have had. 

A shining light amidst this current injury glut, Ryoya Tanaka feels ready to break out tomorrow with a Triangle Gate victory. I just think he would be even more of a sure thing with a big win here. ***

Original Jimmyz (Jimmy Susumu & Jimmy Kagetora) Def. Big Hug (Luis Mante & Hyo)

Jimmy Susumu/Susumu Mochizuki won the last Dream Gate preview with a Jumbo No Kachi on Brave Gate champion Hyo.

History/Context: The Original Jimmys formed in the later phases of the Junction Three vs Blood Warriors feud of 2010-2012, when ascendant BxB Hulk and Akira Tozawa won the right to name Kagetora and Susumu Yokosuka in a Nombre contra Title match. This spawned one of the most beloved stables of all time, The Jimmyz, Jimi being what Tozawa and Hulk renamed Susumu and Kage, meaning boring and plain in Japanese. Big Hug must be a trip for folks parachuting into this show since it has old Dragon Gate on it. They’re the new claimants to being the main characters of the promotion, Dream Gate champion Luis Mante and most popular guy in the promotion Brave Gate champion Hyo. Yes, that Hyo is THIS popular.

This era of Big Hug has been so fascinating to me as it’s become more and more clear where the sheer power of charisma can take you in a promotion like Dragongate. I am probably one of Hyo Watanabe’s earliest and loudest fans, and I am still wrapping my head around the idea of the pudgy small guy in leopard print Chuck Taylors from 2017 being this over in 2024. The pairing immediately has helped Mante’s nascent Dream Gate run as he moves on from Shun Skywalker. The other preview matches between Susumu and Mante have been relatively strong and this one held form. We cannot count out Susumu in a Dream Gate match, but he’s not a certain challenger. Hyo’s overness wasn’t harmed by taking a fall like this.

Where I felt really pessimistic about Dia.HEARTS, the revival of famed tag teams like Big Ben and Original Jimmyz felt like what this show could be about in the future. Or, at the very least, I would be much more interested in seeing one or two “nostalgia” teams in Rey de Parejas than finding space for a second or third team per unit. It was a good time. ***1/2

Five-on-Four Handicap Match

Z-Brats (Shun Skywalker, KAI, ISHIN, & Gianni Valletta) Def. Mad Blankey (YAMATO, Naruki Doi, Kzy, Problem Dragon, & Punch Tominaga) 

There was an immediate double countout as Mad Blankey jumped Z-Brats during Gianni’s rampaging entrance. KAI bid Osaka BYE BYE, but Mad Blankey was determined to have a rematch. The restarted match ended naturally with a Gianni Valletta King Kong Knee Drop on Punch Tominaga. A rough evening for Ol’ PT.

History/Context: Mad Blankey are the most beloved pure rudo (never turning) unit in Dragon System history. Their prime was also during the perceived later “golden age” that coincided with worldwide streaming. This tandem was their second generation “classic” configuration. Having two loss posts in the main event and in a handicap match was the side effect of how popular DoiYAMA was at the time.

Doing the Rewind and Rewatch series with Case on Voice Gate, I felt like this match brought the nostalgia and vibes of a classic Toryumon main event, specifically when Crazy Max and M2K were apart of them. Mad Blankey was so over and so beloved that it didn’t matter that this was Rudo vs Rudo. 

The work here lived up to the crowd responsible. The MVP of the night has to go to Punch Tominaga, who stepped into roles outside of his usual and played it for both laughs in the opener, but also for sincerity as an impromptu babyface-in-peril in the main event. A prolonged referee bump brought out a fun surprise (if not a personal called shot) to bolster Mad Blankey as Don Fujii, zombie veteran, came out for a moment. 

In the end, Punch Tominaga can be the most valuable player on a Dragongate throwback show, but at the end of the day, he’s still Punch Tominaga. Valletta took more of a beating than he has so far in the promotion in this, but one has to think that his monster payoff (and potential title shot) needs to happen sooner rather than later. Easily the best thing on the show. ***3/4 

Final Thoughts

As a fun and easy watch, The Gate of Nostalgia is an obvious thumbs up and recommendation. Those who dip in and out of Dragongate will find enough references to keep themselves amused and the ringwork was to the standard of the Dragon System. Some of the reunions felt a bit forced (Dia.HEARTS, Renaissance), but the ones that felt earned (Mad Blankey, Original Jimmyz, Real Hazard) felt like an appropriate homage for Dragongate on their 25th anniversary year.

Did my personal thoughts and opinion on The Gate of Nostalgia change much after reviewing this show? Well, it reportedly outdrew Fantastica Mania’s stop in this building, and was Dragongate’s best attendance in Osaka Edion #2 in five years. One hopes that the Champion Gate proper show isn’t too much of a dip (I’d say around 800) with three title matches. Seeing some incredibly forced pairings didn’t help my feeling that this was incomplete without the GLEAT side involved, but at the same time, Original Jimmyz and Mad Blankey objectively rule so I’m not going to get too salty about this show.